Sunday, February 28, 2021

‘We prefer to be called Bushmen, not Basarwa’

Well-intentioned effort by the Deputy Speaker, Kagiso Molatlhegi and the Minister of Health, Dorcas Makgato, to get the Jwaneng-Mabutsane MP, Shawn Ntlhaile, to use politically correct language has been given a thumbs-down by Khwedom Council.

During a debate on budget estimates for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Ntlhaile lambasted the “heartless” Botswana Democratic Party government for ill-treating “Masarwa”. Molatlhegi ordered him to use “Basarwa” and Makgato followed by telling the opposition MP that “we refer to Basarwa as Basarwa. It is not a choice. We do not have that latitude; it is not a choice.” The MP accepted this correction and so the Hansard will show that “Basarwa” is not an offensive term.

The Deputy Speaker and the minister were using what is supposed to be an acceptable term but Keikabile Mogodu of Khwedom Council says that Basarwa is also derogatory. Last year, the Council held a press conference to announce that the people in question should no longer be referred to as “Basarwa.”

“It is not a self-chosen name and is no different from calling a black South African “kaffir” or a black American “nigger.” Being called “Basarwa” is testament to our position in society because oppressed people are always being given derogatory names by those who lord over them. We have to raise our voices about this practice. We are not Basarwa; we are Khwe. We have different tribes just like Batswana and we want to be referred to by the name of our tribes,” Mogodu says.

The tribes that he mentions are Dcuikhwe, Shuakhwe, Bugakhwe, Dinisini, Qlanikhwe, Tjiretjire, Qhorokhwe, Qhanikhwe, Nharo, Bakaukau and Tsega.

“Basarwa is a pejorative term and that should be common knowledge: a Motswana would refer to another as a Mosarwa in order to insult them.┬á What is even sad is that all other non-Setswana-speaking tribes in Botswana have a pejorative term for us in their languages. That is evidence of the fact that all tribes oppress us. Why should we be given names when we already have our own?” Mogodu poses.

He lays the blame at the feet of leaders, both in the ruling party and opposition parties as well as tribal leaders. Mogodu, who is Qhanikhwe, contends that the government has not been able to protect Basarwa because it is made up of people who come from tribes that have historically oppressed and brutalised his people.

During the presidency of Festus Mogae, the term “Bushmen” was officially banned and Basarwa touted as the acceptable name for the Khwe. Interestingly, Mogodu says that “Bushmen” is actually more palatable compared to “Basarwa” because of its nearness in meaning to the tribal naming system of the Khwe. Tribal names in Khwe languages denote abode in a particular type of bush thus Mogodu’s tribe ÔÇô the Qhanikhwe, are found in amokgomphatha (wild fruit) bush. Basically this means that the government banned official use of a name that is acceptable to the Khwe and approved another that they find offensive. This was a direct result of the concerned tribes not being consulted.

Khwedom Council is a lobby group that advocates for the rights of the Khwe people.

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